A teacher training odyssey in six parts.
Part 5: In which plans are thwarted and I commune with the wildlife
After three weeks on Ko Pha-ngan the Buddha gave us blessed relief from the storms. The water at Why Nam was like glass, tiny fingertip waves lapping gently up on the shore. There was no wind. After weeks of crashing waves so loud we had had to yell, it was blissfully quiet. I had planned an overnight trip to Ko Tao – another sister island, this one an ominously beautiful rock famous for its clear water and scuba schools – but I cancelled it. It was nice here. Anyway, all the storms had churned up the water. There was no point.
I had become a little wary of the water by that time, anyway. For all of Thailand’s reckless beauty – mountains and lush valleys, rainforests and silky clear waters that I had seen in movies, I had started to believe that Thailand was not the untouched paradise that I had imagined, but something else. Beautiful, yes, but exquisitely, deceptively photogenic.
The water in the Bay of Thailand, a beautiful sea-green in my photographs, was not entirely clear. A light oily sheen often lurked on the surface, probably oil or gasoline from the longtail and the fishing boats constantly going to and fro, but I could not be sure. A piece of trash or a lost flip-flop or a castaway bucket from the full moon party in Haad Rin occasionally bobbed in the surf or washed up on shore. In the beginning, these were not enough to keep me out of the water.
And then people starting getting infections. First Occupantional Therapist, then Masseuse, and then Sea Sprite.
“I think my toe is infected!” Sea Sprite said worriedly one afternoon before workshop. She had scratched it open walking home two nights before.
“Did you swim?” South Africa asked. “You shouldn’t swim if you have any cuts.”
“But I thought the salt water would clean it out!” Sea Sprite wailed.
“No, no. The Bay of Thailand is not clean. It is not the Pacific.”
There was also the matter of the burning. Thailand’s no. 4 industry is tourism (after automobiles, financial services and electrical appliances and parts, apparently) , yet there is no widespread state program for removal of trash and recycling. So what do many Thais do with the millions of plastic water bottles that tourists drink each year? Typically, they burn them. They burn so much that some days the sky is gray, the sun is a hazy dot overhead and it is hard to breathe. Of course, it was acknowledged that this was not a feasible long-term solution. At Why Nam, they encouraged us to refill our bottles with filtered water they provided for free and discouraged us from purchasing new bottles by making them inordinately expensive. “Why Nam is eco-friendly!” the sign at the top of the path said, smoke from the burning plastic whirling around it once a week. The problem is, most tourists don’t trust the filters. At Why Nam, the filtered water tasted fine – I drank it for two days – but on the second day I happened to smell it and I poured it out onto the sand. It smelled just like the trash and plastic they burned behind the restaurant
Anyway, with the weather as it was, I lazed about on the beach. I napped, occasionally waking up to gaze out on the bay and wonder how much longer it would still be beautiful. How much longer until the water was officially un-swimmable, the air too thick to breathe, the water too contaminated even for the most stringent filter? I hoped a long time, but I imagined maybe 10 years. People were already wearing breathing masks in Bangkok; not everyone, but they were around. I hoped Thailand would get it together.
As afternoon dimmed into evening I got into my hammock with my notebook and tried to plan my yoga sequence. Our practical exams – which we needed to pass to get our certification as a yoga teacher – began tomorrow. We were to teach a whole 90-minute class to our teachers, our fellow students and whatever random people we could drum up from the beach to join us.
I swung gently in my hammock, doodling. I wrote down some asanas I liked and then wondered if their order made any sense at all. I stared into space.
A Toucan alighted on the restaurant roof. I had seen him around before and at the Sanctuary. The locals called him “Harry,” probably not his real name. I whistled and he flew over. He perched on the railing next to me, tilting his head and surveying the view.
“You need to practice your sequence,” he said.
“I know,” I told him.
And he tilted his head and looked at me in the eyes for a long moment, and then he flew away.
In three days, I would teach my first class.
Kristina Chandler is a lawyer and certified yoga teacher who began practicing yoga in 1994 to rehab an injury, fell in love and has been hitting the mat ever since. She’s practiced yoga all over the globe, from Bali to Sweden and many places in between. Check out her other musings on yoga here.